Last year was a rollercoaster for women in the workplace.
With most companies going remote, homeschooling becoming the norm, and historic job losses affecting almost 2X more women than men, burnout among women has become an everyday reality.
But despite the challenges, there are silver linings too—post-2020, the number of women in positions of power is growing, and positive change is on its way.
To find out exactly how things changed for women last year, we asked some top female talent pros to share their thoughts. From how to become more agile to why we should all be advocating for more, these influential women have a ton of wisdom, positivity and calls to action to share.
Now is the time to listen.
“Be an agent of change”
“These days, women prove they can crash through the glass ceiling and then throw a ladder down to other women—and yet they are still not treated equally to men in the workplace.” —Phidelia Johnson, Chief HR Officer at Pac-J Services.
As Chief HR Officer at Pac-J Services, Phidelia Johnson knows a thing or two about what it takes to win as a woman.
But despite her personal success, Phidelia has been witness to the hardships women can face.
“As the pandemic continues to disrupt every aspect of the workplace, businesses are being challenged to do many things to engage their human capital—especially women,” explains Phidelia. “These days, women prove they can crash through the glass ceiling and then throw a ladder down to other women—and yet they are still not treated equally to men in the workplace.”
“We still have a pay gap, with women earning just 80% of what men earn for the same work. While this insight isn’t anything new, it’s yet another critical call to action.” —Phidelia Johnson, Chief HR Officer at Pac-J Services
For Phidelia, the answer lies in embracing diversity in the workplace.
“If organizations want to be an organization of choice, they must have a meaningful and useful Diversity, Inclusion, Belonging and Equity (DIB&E). And above all, there need to be ongoing opportunities for women in the workplace to have their say, to connect with senior leaders, and to have a sense they can be more and achieve more,” she says. “Organizational leaders need to be clear about their expectations because women are multitasking with multiple pressures.”
But it’s not only leaders who can stand for change. Each worker plays a part too.
“As workers, we can each be an agent of change in our own capacities and in driving organizations towards talent solutions for women in the workplace—to enable women to gain leadership development and to transition into more prominent professional roles with equitable job titles and pay,” says Phidelia, “Equity for women, like perfection, is something to strive for. It may not be attainable in our generation, but simply by working towards the goal, we will make great strides forward.”
“We're not all the same”
“We play a big role in setting the tone to ensure we're creating spaces that lift up women.” —Elena Valentine, CEO at Skill Scout
Filmmaker and Skill Scout CEO, Elena Valentine, takes HR storytelling to the next level.
Her media company helps share the stories of the world’s biggest brands—and captures the humanity of work at the same time. Through her work, Elena has seen the issues sparked by 2020’s events firsthand.
“By September 2020, 845,000 women left the workforce—4X more than their male counterparts. And that number disproportionately affected Black, Latinx, and Indigenous women,” she explains.
It’s because of these recent events that Elena believes there’s no more time to waste.
“Winning as a womxn in talent is advocating for policies that enable these womxn (and those on the verge of leaving) to succeed at work and at home. We need to advocate for necessary changes that allow for a new level of flexibility,” she says.
“Flexibility and grace can no longer be a nice-to-have—it's a must-have if we're committed to achieving any level of equity.” —Elena Valentine, CEO at Skill Scout
And it’s up to HR leaders to show the way.
“We play a big role in setting the tone to ensure we're creating spaces that lift up women. It calls for a new shift in how we think about work productivity, outcomes and beyond. Especially after the damage the pandemic has caused to years of progress,” says Elena.
“Don’t let them guilt you”
Laura Mazzullo, Owner, East Side Staffing
For some powerful women in talent, success is about taking control and setting your own boundaries.
Talent powerhouse Laura Mazzullo, owner of New York based HR boutique, East Side Staffing, says it like it is: “Don’t let them guilt you.”
The ‘guilt gap’ between men and women is real, with women in the workplace often more willing to take on professional sacrifice.
How does Laura overcome that challenge? With a simple motto: “Knowing your worth is success,” she says.
“Advocate, mentor, and show empathy”
“The best path forward is to ensure historically under-represented populations have representation especially in leadership ranks.” —Romy Newman, President and Co-founder at Fairygodboss
If you’ve been in the HR space for long, you’ll have heard of Romy Newman.
As President and Co-founder of women’s career community Fairygodboss, Romy is dedicated to helping women succeed in the workplace.
But the impact of 2020 has been palpable on the women she works with.
“The multiple crises of 2020 have had an extremely negative impact on women in the workplace—and especially Women of Color. Women have exited the workforce in droves, and those that remain are experiencing burnout at an unprecedented pace,” explains Romy.
Despite the fallout, Romy believes there is a route to inclusion—and we all have a part to play.
“The best path forward is to ensure historically under-represented populations have representation especially in leadership ranks. Once we do, it's up to us to advocate, mentor, and show empathy,” she says.
"Winning as a woman in talent is about helping to redefine and reshape the workplace into a landscape that is more diverse, more flexible, more accepting, more innovative and more supportive.”
“Recruiters, partner with hiring managers!”
“As women we so often take on the role of carer, which means we accept any imbalance more readily, but we mustn’t.” —Katrina Collier, Author, Speaker & Facilitator, The Searchologist
Katrina Collier is on a mission to get all the people who recruit people to treat people better.
And she’s taking that challenge head-on. From her raved-about podcast to her must-read book The Robot-Proof Recruiter—plus her ambassadorship for Hope for Justice, which aims to end modern-day slavery—Katrina’s got her mission down.
But for Katrina, there’s one detail that can bring about huge change for women in the workplace: getting recruiters to work with hiring managers to get the job done.
“In-house recruiters and talent acquisition professionals, your job is to partner with your hiring leaders through the process, not to take on the role of a service or admin function. Stop calling them hiring managers and call them ‘hiring partners’ because they are not managing the recruitment process, you are!” she says.
“As women we so often take on the role of carer, which means we accept any imbalance more readily, but we mustn’t. Shake it off—you will recruit better people if you work together to find the right person for the role.” —Katrina Collier, Author, Speaker & Facilitator, The Searchologist
The importance of this really hit home when Katrina was writing The Robot-Proof Recruiter. In chapter 5—aptly named Get Your Intake Right—Katrina explains exactly how to get it sorted.
“I called in industry experts Steve Levy, Maisha Cannon & Tangie Pettis to arm my readers with the information they need to go into this crucial meeting ready; ready to partner! It results in the success or failure of the entire hiring process,” says Katrina.
Here’s how it’s done:
“You explain your role in the process and they agree to theirs. Together you work to fill the role and in turn deliver a great experience that benefits candidates and your employer brand,” she explains.
Katrina has seen firsthand how working as a partnership can drive real change.
Over the course of the Robot-Proof Recruiter mastermind program I witness female recruiters, in particular, really sit up and demand partnership. Considering the mix of cultures who join each pod, it’s a delight to create this growth and see the results in their recruitment. In my podcast, I interview leaders who are already partnering with recruiters about why they do it, how they do it and what partnering achieves,” she says.
Above all, Katrina has one call to action.
“Recruiters, it’s time to partner with your hiring leaders and see the differences it makes,” she says.
“Reinventing yourself is a lifestyle”
“I get extremely excited about how women can consistently reinvent themselves and evolve; being deliberate about both their professional and personal decisions.” —Tanjia Coleman, President at Reimagine Organization Development
Tanjia Coleman is a diversity and leadership powerhouse.
As President at Reimagine Organization Development, she believes in a strategic approach to empowering women in the workplace.
Here’s Tanjia’s three-tier approach to creating a winning workplace for women post-2020:
- “Wellness and self-care—without self-care you can go nowhere.
- Continuing professional and personal development efforts.
- Being a steward, ally and conduit for diversity.”
“Women are realizing how much has been required of them both pre and post-Covid, and so wellness and self-care are at the core of what winning looks like for women post-2020. The future success of women is about collaboration not competition,” she explains.
But it’s not just up to individuals to drive for female empowerment in the workplace—companies have a role to play too.
“Companies need to hold themselves accountable and ensure they invest in women’s development, set guidelines for development plans, and make space for women to develop and learn,” says Tanjia.
“According to McKinsey, women are twice as likely to leave the workforce altogether as compared to men and 4x as likely to move from a full-time role to a part-time role. This will have a lasting impact on women’s mental health, finances and career trajectory.” —Tanjia Coleman, President at Reimagine Organization Development
But above all, it’s about making positive changes intentionally.
“The art of reinvention is intentional but is sometimes unstructured, disorganized or goes unrecognized. Reinvention can appear to be something that happens to you versus something strategic and self-directed. I get extremely excited about how women can consistently reinvent themselves and evolve; being deliberate about both their professional and personal decisions,” says Tanjia.
“There’s room at the table. Sit.”
“The Covid pandemic made it abundantly clear that our approach to work didn't actually work.” —Micole Garatti, Director of B2B Marketing at Fairygodboss
If you don’t already know about Micole Garatti, it’s time you do.
As Director of B2B Marketingat Fairygodboss, Writer at SocialMicole, and Author of The Most Inclusive HR Influencer List, Micole drives for inclusivity at every turn—which is why she knows there’s still more work to be done.
“The Covid pandemic made it abundantly clear that our approach to work didn't actually work. It brought to light key societal, economic, and workplace issues that contribute to increased burdens on women—especially Women of Color,” she explains.
“To win, we must continue to make positive workplace changes to achieve a more equitable and just society, economy, and workplace.” —Micole Garatti, Director of B2B Marketing at Fairygodboss
But Micole believes the fallout from Covid wasn’t all bad.
“The pandemic allowed us to hit the reset button, prioritize, and create space for long overdue changes around diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging,” she says.
“Engage Male Allies through mentorship”
Kelly Lockwood Primus, CEO at Leading NOW
If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that we work better together. For Kelly Lockwood Primus, CEO at inclusive leadership company Leading Now, that’s especially true when it comes to empowering women in the workplace.
“Engage Male Allies through mentorship,” says Kelly.
Knowing there are allies who understand the issues and are signed up to support inclusion makes the workplace an easier place to navigate.
“Better get that dough, sister”
“Silence is just as harmful as actively working against others.” —Mary Faulkner, Principal at IA HR
When we asked Mary Faulkner, Principal at IA HR, for her thoughts on the role of women in talent, she was quick to quote Lady Marmalade: “Better get that dough, sister.” Love it. 😂
But to “get the dough”, Mary believes the answer is to speak up for women. All. The. Time.
“Winning means using your voice early and often to lift up others and shout down hypocrisy,” says Mary. “Too often women will stay silent as a way to protect their status quo, and silence is just as harmful as actively working against others.”
“Women see what is happening and understand the subtle paper cuts of discrimination against women in the workplace, so it’s important we speak up.” —Mary Faulkner, Principal at IA HR
The lines of discrimination aren’t just drawn between men and women—Women of Color experience even more hardships in the workplace than their white female colleagues.
“It’s important that white women, in particular, do our part to acknowledge our role in protecting the current system and actively work to take the burden off non-white women and break the systems designed to hold others back,” says Mary.
“Passionate pursuit of meaningful outcomes”
“It’s important to seek results that align with what brings you meaning and purpose.” —Melanie Peacock, PhD, Double M Training & Consulting
Founder of Double M Training & Consulting Melanie Peacock is an HR pro with a jaw-dropping list of achievements—including winning the 2020 Canadian HR Awards Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of her exceptional contributions to the HR industry. 👏🏽
Her success is based on two principles: passion and meaning.
“Work should be driven by what excites you. This allows a person to bring their whole, authentic self to each situation. When someone is passionate about their work the energy is palpable and it helps spark joy, curiosity and drive,” says Melanie.
But passion needs direction too.
“There’s also a need for ongoing evolution and change, and the need to approach life and work as a journey with continuous re-evaluation of sought-after goals. A person engaging in pursuit is willing to course-correct and adjust,” she says.
And for Melanie, there are some important questions to answer.
“It’s important to seek results that align with what brings you meaning and purpose. The answer to ‘Why am I engaging in this work?’ and ‘How does it enhance life, for me and others?’ should be apparent. Understanding the concept of ‘how?’ also leads to appropriate targets. ‘How am I effectively using resources?’ and ‘How are my goals impacting the mental and physical health of myself and others?’ —in other words ‘How are you/ How am I?’ are critical questions. I refer to this as ‘meaning-making’ through a deeper understanding of both ‘why?’ and ‘how?’” explains Melanie.
Once you know what you want and how to get there, the sky’s the limit.
“Define success on your terms”
“Our country elected a female VP. If that’s not a wake-up call for employers for diversity and inclusion in leadership, I don’t know what is.” —Jessica Miller-Merrell, Founder and Chief Innovation Officer at Workology
With half a million HR and recruiting leaders on their books, twice Forbes-listed HR company Workology lead the way for disruptive professionals.
When we asked Founder and Chief Innovation Officer Jessica Miller-Merrell for her thoughts on women in talent, she pointed out that one of the most historic moments for women—and particularly Women of Color—has just taken place.
“We have a female person of color as Vice President of the United States for the first time in our country’s history. This matters—to me, to my daughter, to women in the workforce, to women in the boardroom, to women who have had to fight very hard to get a seat at the executive table. Our country elected a female VP. If that’s not a wake-up call for employers for diversity and inclusion in leadership, I don’t know what is.”
“Our gender should not be a factor in our ability to get promoted, get hired, get a raise, or get attention in the boardroom.”—Jessica Miller-Merrell, Founder and Chief Innovation Officer at Workology
“Always focus on building relationships”
“The only thing you can control, and what you should focus on, is preparing yourself to be ready for the opportunities (and challenges) ahead.” —Jennifer McClure, President, Unbridled Talent LLC
Jennifer McClure helps leaders embrace the future of work and leverage their influence to create positive, lasting change.
Which is why when we asked for her thoughts on the role of women in talent, her eyes were firmly on the future.
“What goes down, comes back up. Yes, the economy has been hit hard, and employment for all workers (especially women) has been affected negatively. However, there will be a rebound. When? Who knows? The only thing you can control, and what you should focus on, is preparing yourself to be ready for the opportunities (and challenges) ahead,” says Jennifer.
So, how do you prepare?
“Prioritize your well-being and learn continuously. Create space wherever possible to improve your health—mentally and physically. Schedule time for learning and building relationships with people who can facilitate your growth. Be bold, be intentional, and be ready!” says Jennifer.
Although 2020 had a lot of negative repercussions (to put it lightly), there are silver linings too.
From the new spaces that have opened up for women to fill, to the fact there is a Black Woman VP for the first time ever—there are definite reasons to be hopeful.
So, as we head into a new year, roll up your sleeves and get stuck in—because the future’s here and it’s female.